Downton Abbey


I have strenuously avoided writing about “Downton Abbey” before now.  Like many others, I learned about the show after it had begun, and Partner and I started late, but we directly fell under its spell.  We finished watching the second season the other night, and – whew!  Affairs, murder, sudden death, imprisonment, scandal, the Great War, Spanish influenza, amnesia!  I need to lie on my chaise longue for a few moments so that I can catch my breath!



Seriously, the show’s terrific.  It has everything: a beautiful setting (Downton Abbey is actually Highclere Castle in Hampshire, one of those unbelievably beautiful English country homes that seem only to exist in dreams), a brilliant cast combining fresh faces like Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens with familiar ones like Maggie Smith and Elizabeth McGovern, and brilliant writing by Julian Fellowes (who also wrote “Gosford Park”).   It’s a pleasure to hear a witty line of dialogue delivered by someone like Maggie Smith, wearing perfect 1920s couture, in a beautiful room full of beautiful furniture.



I was alive way back in 1971, when “Upstairs Downstairs” debuted on American TV.  It covered much of the same ground as “Downton,” and we were mesmerized by it as well: the serene Bellamy family upstairs, the turbulent servants’ quarters downstairs.  It even used a lot of the same plotlines (or is it the other way around?): relationships between the gentry and the servants, the Titanic, the Great War . . .



Oh, who cares?  (Well, maybe Jean Marsh cares.  She worked for a long time to bring about a new version of “Upstairs Downstairs,” which came out at almost exactly the same time as “Downton Abbey.”  “Downton” blew her show away.  She was publicly bitter about this, and I don’t blame her; it must have been a great blow.)  But, you see, “Downton” has such spectacular production values: the scenery, the sets, the cast.  And no one except dinosaurs like me remembers “Upstairs, Downstairs.”



This is not to say that “Downton” is perfect.  There was, in the second season, a perfectly ridiculous plot concerning amnesia, which reminded me of something out of “Guiding Light” or “Days of our Lives.”  It only lasted a single episode, thank god, but it was pretty ridiculous.  Also there have been some less-than-satisfactory character shifts; the precise and efficient Cousin Isabel (Penelope Wilton), who was such a perfect antagonist for the stuffy Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) in the first season, became insufferable in the second season.   (And, speaking personally, I could have lived perfectly happily without seeing Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) in bed together after their wedding; they’re perfectly nice people, and I’m all for them, but they’re a little on the pale and pudgy side when they’re unclothed.)



New York magazine did the most beautiful set of paper dolls of some of the characters recently.  Their readers howled for more: they want the whole cast, the house, the car, the dog!



I think that would be just fine.



(I hear, in season three, we’re going to meet the American grandmother of the family, Lady Cora’s mother, Martha Levinson, played by Shirley Maclaine.)



(Levinson? Jewish? Lady Cora’s Jewish? Oh my.  It will be difficult to wait this one out. Lady Violet will have a fit.)



In the meantime: if you haven’t seen the show, seek it out.  You are in for a treat.



Tell them Mr. Pamuk sent you.




About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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